Alumni reflections: Zwipe

We’re accepting applications to our accelerator, where we invest 1MNOK in great technology entrepreneurs building something exciting out of Norway. Building up to that, we’ve caught up with some of the entrepreneurs we’ve worked with in the past to hear what learnings they can share with younger companies.

Kim Kristian Humborstad (KH) and Zwipe was actually the very first company we worked with at StartupLab, so in a sense we can call them founding members. They've come a long way since then. We sat down to Kim to hear about the journey so far.

SL: First, give us the status of your business today in two sentences?

KH: This year is the first time we're selling all three products in all our main markets, the year we're really starting to commercialize our product. After many years of R&D, the focus is shifting to scaling, and we're expecting this to be our breakthrough on the market side.

SL: But it looked quite different in the beginning, didn’t it?

KH: Definitely. Zwipe was actually started while I was studying entrepreneurship in Bø. Me and my co-founder Joakim Solberg wanted to learn how we could do identification of people both more secure and user-friendly. This was a real problem we saw around us, and after some time researching we figured that fingerprints was the best way to solve this problem. Then we realized we had to connect with people that could help us solve this problem, and we made the decision to move to Oslo and StartupLab.

SL: These days you are working with large financial institutions, both banks and companies like MasterCard. How did you guys, two students, manage to build trust with these companies? How did you compensate for what you at least on paper lacked in credibility.

KH: What we did, and which has been very important for us, was to connect with communities and competency. We always tried to connect with people that complemented our competency and network. This has enabled Zwipe as a company to learn very quickly.

Zwipe in the early days, winning DNB's Innovation Award

Our move to Oslo and StartupLab, with all the support and access to experienced advisors that we got, steepened our learning curve. We've always strived to work with people that are smarter than us, and that has paid off. We recently hired the person who headed the introduction of Chip and Pin in Europe for MasterCard to head one of our commercial verticals. With that caliber of people joining our team we learn quicker.

This has been a deliberate choice all from the start. We've been very conscious about the fact that we've been navigating in unchartered territory. Then we have to do stuff, reflect on it, and correct course. You could say we've had our fair share of pivot-situations along the way.

SL: Throughout your entire journey, you’ve gotten credit for being great at attracting people that complement the core team. What’s been your strategy for recruiting/attracting the right talent?

KH: We want to work with the best. And we never compromise on that. Great people think it’s more exciting to be part of a group of very skilled people, than to be the one smart person that everyone asks all the time. We’ve always worked to create that type of company where great people feel stimulated.

Then of course, it doesn't hurt that we're solving a very exciting problem. People want to work on interesting challenges.

SL: Looking back at the first years of building a company, what’s been your biggest unexpected learning so far.

KH: That R&D takes three times as long as expected, and cost twice as much. But that's probably common knowledge [laughs].

More unexpected was probably how challenging it is to work with people from a lot of different countries and cultures. I've believed from the start that there's no way a group of Norwegians can build a global company. If we want to succeed internationally, we have to hire internationally. Diversity is super important, you build a global company from the inside out.

But being a diverse company comes with its challenges. While some people see it as the most natural thing in the world to report delays and deviations, others might take that as a given and only report when everything is on track. Orchestrating this is difficult, and takes time to master. We’ve done a lot of mistakes, but the solution is a combination of simple and personalized communication, continuously

SL: And the most important thing you’ve gotten right — in order to get to where you are today.

KH: Probably that we started communicating with customers early on. Getting input from customers along the way, while we've been developing our products, is something we have done and continue to do. Beta-testing as you might call it, is very common in the software business, but more unusual for hardware-companies. But it's been very important for us.

It’s been important for us to established a strong relationship and trust with our first customers, and we chose who to approach based on this. We didn’t target the most profiled customers early on, but rather less known companies with the same requirements to performance as the large high profile customers. This allowed us to experiment with less exposure, and we could iterate and learn quickly and undisturbed. Now that our products are solid, and everyone can and should use them.

SL: Status of your business in two sentences, if asked in five years?

KH: Then we’re doing biometric authentication in every connected device, from payment, via physical access control to cyber security.

We look forward to following Kim the next five years as well. If you're working on solving a problem, check out or upcoming accelerator.

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